Sony showed off a lot of PlayStation 3 software today. It put Microsoft to shame somewhat, and that's from somebody who was really excited on Friday morning after Xbox 360 landed and what we got to see what it was. Inevitably there was little talk of gameplay evolution at Sony's conference, with the emphasis firmly on next-generation technology, but that's not to say there was none whatsoever. The following rundown of games that we saw in video form touches on little innovations wherever it can, and there's a degree of putting two and two together, while the focus remains getting the point across about each of them. Hopefully you'll find it useful; what is particularly inevitable, given the strength, volume and variation, is that you'll find something you're interested in. More on these, hopefully, later in the week.
Devil May Cry 4 (Capcom) - Apart from a few shots of what looked like DMC3, there was a brief glimpse of Dante atop a snowy mountain, but little else. It's on the way though, which is good news for fans.
Eyedentify (SCEJ) - One of the most intriguing games unveiled during the Sony press conference, Eyedentify calls to mind Japanese title Lifeline/Operator's Side, which involved directing someone using voice input. Here it's a similar idea, but the implementation is exponentially more interesting and, hopefully, a bit more convincing. Your face appears in a voice comms window, and you talk to a pair of gorgeous anime-esque girls rendered in startling detail - as is everything on the console - who appear to be assassins of a sort. "How's it going out there?" you ask. "Target's in sight and all's going to plan," you hear back.
Later in the video presentation you'd be laughing along with one of the girl's jokes and the other would tell her to shut up before turning to you. "You too mister!" Worryingly, they have a habit of looking longingly out of the screen at you. It's going to be difficult to get the voice comms to work as smoothly as the visual side of the game, but it's a noble effort - and seeing your own face plastered over comms terminals in-game, at all sorts of angles, translucent and whatnot, is an unrivalled thrill.
Fifth Phantom Saga (SEGA) - Another game of which relatively little was seen, and it probably ranks as one of the least impressive demonstrations. But then it's all relative. It looked incredibly detailed anyway, and had a Half-Life 2-style gravity/physics manipulation angle to it, picking up bodies and hurling them about. "Crazy physics, big guns," it says in our notes. Which, given that SEGA's involved, means it's one to watch regardless of the fact it probably fits Hirai's assertion that some demos would be less impressive than others.
Fight Night Round 3 (EA Sports) - This one got more air time than the others for the simple reason that Larry Probst was on stage to announce EA's support for the PlayStation 3, and in doing so had the chance to show off. We're glad he did. Fight Night Round 3 conveys so much detail through body language and facial expression that EA Chicago's Kudo implied that status indicators would be completely done away with. And judging by the reaction of the nice French lady sitting next to us, who repeatedly winced and turned away as a knockout punch was replayed, his other assertion that the sight of the killer blow would make you reel as much as it would were you at ringside was true enough too. Frankly, even steel-stomached types would struggle to watch a man's lower jaw being virtually severed by a killer blow so many times over at such a level of detail.
Given that boxing games bore yours truly to death (with the exception of Punch-Out), the fact that we can't wait to play it speaks volumes; right now it is all about the visuals, but it's got to the point where visuals could help us do away with cluttersome screen furniture like health bars, and that's far more likely to break down the barrier to the mainstream than, er, being able to make custom levels and sell them to your mates.
Formula 1 (Liverpool Studio) - Studio Liverpool did well with this demo to demonstrate the power of the PlayStation 3. Think F1 with fairly ridiculous high resolution visuals and that's it. Fumes erupt from exhausts, helmets bob in seats, everything has a soft edge, the individually modelled members of the crowd perform a Mexican wave en masse, wheel arches buckle as cars spin into each other and the debris scatters across the track. But even so, it's a Formula 1 game, and the proof of its worth will be in the handling and realism of the driving experience of 70 laps; not in its visuals. And judging by the way cars darted around with an unrealistic rate of acceleration and a slightly weightless look, it might not get there. Comfortably gorgeous, but uncertain.
The Getaway "Screen Test" (Team Soho) - The Getaway was more of a technical demo than an actual game at Sony's pre-E3 conference, but all the same it looked good. It modelled a London street in a lot more detail - though not quite to the degree that it was convincing, it has to be said. There was still an unrealistic, slightly too clean look about the place, and the lighting - that horrible grey cloudiness that isn't quite light but is only half edging toward dark that we're so used to - was proving very difficult to get right. But in terms of the quality of the environment, the cars, the people, Team Soho is clearly on the right path. We just hope that it's closer in spirit to the first game than the second, and a fair distance from the pair of them in mechanical terms. Your correspondent and editor Kristan both enjoyed the original Getaway immensely, but it wouldn't work now.
Heavenly Sword (Ninja Theory) - Ninja Theory, formerly Just Add Monsters, seem to have found their way into a publishing arrangement with Sony judging by the "SCEE presents" screen preceding this demo, and if true then we can see why. This appears to be a game involving a heroine with a big gun and a big sword who fights entire armies. Surrounded by enemies in an opening shot, she explodes into life, fighting them with a chain weapon, smashing them through splintering objects, kicking tables around, spearing two at a time, going into slow motion attacks, fighting in mid-air and floating back down, and then, in the second sequence, taking on an army comparable to the Armies of Mordor, using rockets to carve holes in enemy lines and then fighting literally thousands at once. Games often try to make you feel hard when you're fighting; Heavenly Sword looks like a Matrix Reloaded simulator.
I-8 (Insomniac) - Insomniac's PS3 effort, dubbed "CRAZY ASS WAR GAME" in our notes, looks like a cross between Call of Duty and Half-Life 2. Which is to say that it has squad-based battles in towns and forests amongst overturned cars, everyone decked out in army green wearing helmets and looking a bit 1940s, whilst also having enemies with huge jaws, and Strider-like giant four-legged enemies that spike people. Not as impressive in a technical or conceptual sense as some of the other titles on display, but Insomniac is no slouch.
Killing Day (Ubisoft) - It's always nice to put a name to a face, and in gaming terms it's always nice to discover that a name found on the bottom of a press release moons ago actually turns out to be a first-person shooter with breathtaking visuals that sees glass shop fronts explode like fountains of reflective death scattering over equally reflective marble flooring, and in which it's possible to duck behind a marble statue to reload and watch bullets gradually chip away the statue's extremities as you frantically fumble for another magazine.
KillZone (Guerrilla) - Amazingly, given the incredibly underwhelming PS2 version, Killzone could well be the best-looking first-person shooter we have ever seen. Beginning with a descent on World War II-style landing craft - except flying versions - it's the next-generation of beach landings. Helghast rockets send the one next to yours into a skyscraper, while another is blown to smithereens behind you on landing, and troops all around trying to secure a bridge as a kind of beachhead are being pulverised by bullets. The detail on your weapon alone is enough to make Half-Life 2 look like a cartoon, but the most impressive thing is that it made yours truly, who hated Killzone, suddenly whack it to the top of his Most Wanted. Remember the awesome TV adverts? This looks better.
Mobile Suit Gundam (Bandai) - Another game that in the previous generation brought only "meh" to mouths of us and ours, the Gundam demo at Sony's conference suggested that stompy robots could be reborn in the next generation. Towering over buildings is a bit blasÚ, ya see, when the buildings look like regular everyday third-person level geometry. In the Mobile Suit Gundam trailer, the environments look utterly real even when you watch the action from inside a building. Think of it this way: the power of the PS3 means the incidental rooms, doorways and rooftops that you watch from and windows you peer into are capable of looking better than anything would on current generation hardware as the focal point. And into this utopian gaming environment march ten-storey-tall robots firing enormous rockets at each other...
MotorStorm (Evolution Studio) - It's a testament to the strength of the PlayStation 3 showing that this, a brand new franchise, stuck out in our minds as the most memorable part of the event. It was a non-stop car and bike chase through muddy desert-like environments, full of explosions, flying mud and, as with the others, a level of incidental detail that doesn't so much suspend your disbelief as engulf it in tangibly searing flame. At one point, mud splatters the windscreen of the car the camera's shooting from within so violently that the wipers are brought into play, smearing it rather than getting rid of it, only for the problem to be wiped away entirely by a bike landing on the roof. There's evidence of awesome physics, particle effects, convincing mud behaviour, an overwhelming sense of speed, and some fancy little touches - like the way driving through fiery wreckage sees little bits of flame emanating from bits of your car, and even licking up the windscreen. Watching the trailer was more fun than actually driving. Even when it's in LA and Pat's behind the wheel.
NioH (KOEI) - One of KOEI's titles, this looks like Kessen Next-Gen. Warlords lead armies racing into battle against each other, huge war beasts scything through frontlines, warlords fighting and contorting, blades smashing into each other and all hell breaking loose on a large scale. As an attract sequence it does its job.
Tekken (Namco) - A relatively weak demo this, but proof positive of Namco's support of the console, and a demonstration of the swanky visual effects it's possible to pull off. All you see is a character from Tekken - this writer isn't going to be pretend he knows which one; a karate-looking muvva funster - whose muscles are bulging so voraciously that steam is rising from them, and whose punching action sends a shower of individually modelled and charted sweat drops flying past the camera.
Vision Gran Turismo (Polyphony Digital) - Gran Turismo like it's supposed to look, to deal with it in short. Familiar tracks, cars and actions are detail levels previously only seen in still shots, demo movies and Kazunori Yamauchi's head. "From partial reality to complete reality," the demo boasts (amusingly followed by a shot of a mechanic whose leg isn't touching the ground he's supposedly kneeling on), and it gets it 95 per cent right. This is going to be huge. Forza may have impressed on Xbox, but if Vision GT sees Polyphony taking bolder steps to liven up their racer than this year's GT4 did, it'll be one of those unfair races that earns you a medal but zero A-Spec points. Just millions of sales.
WarHawk (Incognito) - Finally, and it's by no means a bad one to go out on, there was WarHawk. Incog are probably better known for Twisted Metal, but don't hold that against them (or to yourself either). This demo begins with mean-looking troops prowling through subterranean bricky tunnels, before heading into the air to zoom around with planes. Lots of planes. Hundreds of planes and enormous floating aircraft carriers that swarm menacingly over gorgeous valleys in the direction of a cityscape.
Ah, menacing spectres on the horizon. Hyperbole is, as we've said once already this evening, utterly inevitable in the face of what can rightly be described as the next generation of console visuals, but come November when some of us are enjoying our Xbox 360s, Microsoft may well glimpse a similar spectre on the horizon; that of millions of PlayStation 3s preparing to win back Sony's market share. And then some. "And then some" - if we're going to prise sentences out of past comments and apply them to our current thinking, we might as well point out that that one sums up PlayStation 3 visuals overall.